All-star cast and a dated script make for a one-star film

by Julia Levy | 5/1/01 5:00am

Name any random theme off the top of your head and you can most likely find it in the twisted semi-surreal romantic comedy "Town and Country."

The movie touches on sexual orientation, extramarital affairs, child-parent relationships, premarital sex, mystery seductresses, the daily life of wealthy New Yorkers, alcoholism, coincidence, fate and stereotypes, among others.

But instead of appealing to the gay rights types, the New York-aholics and the romantics all at once, "Town and Country" is more likely to lose its audience somewhere between Long Island and the Upper East side.

The guy exiting the theater muttering "That was terrible, just terrible," might have been reacting a little too harshly, but this movie was no "When Harry met Sally."

The story is set in the circle of posh New Yorkers who own designer houses in the Hamptons and uptown apartments in the city (thus the not-so-inventive title of the movie).

Plot nuances make it tough to explain the story line in a condensed form, but it starts by presenting two "perfect" long-married couples. Goldie Hawn, who plays Mona, is married to Griffin, played by Garry Shandling. She has been friends with Porter Stoddard (Warren Beatty) since childhood. Beatty, now a famous and super-wealthy architect, is married to Ellie, played by Diane Keaton.

The "perfect" label fades pretty quickly when Mona spies on her husband in the midst of a rendezvous with a mysterious redhead. What Mona doesn't see is that the "redhead" is actually a man ("Haha," says the audience. "We know something one of the movie's bigwigs doesn't even know!") So, Mona proceeds with the misperception that her husband doesn't love her, when really he just isn't attracted to women.

Profound? Not so much.

Maybe if "Town and Country" hit the silver screen before "Will and Grace" started appearing weekly on the boob tube, this homosexual plot twist could be something special, but in this day and age it's verging on unnecessary.

Soon after we first figure out that Mona and Griffin are heading towards marital disaster, it turns out that Porter isn't faithful to his wife either. He has good intentions -- or so he claims -- but the poor overindulged architect just can't help himself when he sees the whimsy cellist, or most any other girl who passes through his vicinity.

The movie tries to sort out the mess that its intertwining story lines create. By the end, a few of the messes have been cleaned up, but many are still unresolved.

Apparently, director Peter Chelsom is trying to teach his audience the not-so-innovative lesson that life keeps moving even if everything isn't perfect. But the in-between ending is frustrating, especially since it's hard to develop any real attachment to the main characters throughout the film.

Chelsom spends a lot of time in the 102-minute film developing Beatty's character. But although we view Porter Stoddard as the prototypical philandering mid-life crisis type, we aren't given enough clues to predict how he will react when placed in a series of bizarre situations. His moves seem to surprise his character as much as they surprise the other characters that surround him -- not to mention the audience.

Some of the movie's humor comes from the unexpected -- the crazy charlatan father of the mystery would-be social climber (Andie MacDowell) who ignites Shandling's summer cottage in Sun Valley, for example. The abundance of underdeveloped characters makes it easy for the surprises to keep popping up -- and this makes the movie bearable. Even as the subplots sometimes detract from the movie's general order, they are often also more developed and entertaining than the overarching plot.

Jenna Elfman is convincing as an esoteric fishing store operative, who the two husbands meet when they've escaped together to Sun Valley.

And there are a few funny sequences involving the people living off Beatty's fortune in his luxurious New York apartment. These leeches include the housekeeper's tribal boyfriend, who likes to walk around topless, the eye shadow-wearing, pierced girlfriend of his son and the boyfriend of his daughter, who is of uncertain ethnic descent and is decidedly a non-English-speaker.

This movie really isn't awful. It is an OK drama. But the money you'd spend to see it would probably be better spent on two cappuccinos at Dirt Cowboy (or a few movie rentals at Video Stop for that matter).

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